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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 15:03 GMT


Fury over suicide jail's Charter Mark

Ten inmates have hanged themselves since 1994

Home Secretary Jack Straw has defended the decision to award a Charter Mark to a privately-run prison with the worst suicide record in England and Wales as an "unfortunate coincidence of timing".

The BBC's Chris Hogg: Campaigners for prison reform say the award is inappropriate
One prison reform group has described the award as incredible and demanded Doncaster jail be brought under state control.

Ten inmates have hanged themselves since the prison opened in 1994. Five deaths took place last year alone, giving the prison the worst suicide record of any jail in England and Wales.

Mr Straw said he understood the concern about the "unfortunate coincidence of timing".

Home Secretary Jack Straw: "Award was entirely independent"
He told Radio 4's The World At One programme: "I don't think that should detract from the award which Doncaster prison had been given, which was entirely independent.

"The sad, very dismal truth, is that local prisons, like Doncaster, do have a disproportionate number of suicides in the prison system because these are the reception prisons, they have a large number of prisoners coming in.

"Typically if prisoners are going to commit suicide ... they do it when they are on remand, awaiting trial or sentence or in the early stages of their sentence."

He said prison suicide was a problem but the Charter Mark system was to recognise the ability of some staff in difficult institutions like prisons to meet a high standard.

Death Row video

An inquest into one of the deaths last week heard how the jail, run by Premier Prison Service, allowed inmates to watch a video about prisoners on Death Row in America, which so depressed one Doncaster convict that he killed himself the following day.

The BBC's Richard Wells: "The worst suicide record of any jail in England and Wales"
The Charter Mark commends staff for their suicide awareness policy. The citation says they work as a team helping prisoners to help themselves and provide a "secure, safe and humane environment".

Premier Prison Service says the Charter Mark would not have been awarded if it had not been deserved.

Prison governor Kevin Rogers told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "There's only one area where they looked at suicide prevention and we're talking about a Charter Mark for the whole prison.

Kevin Rogers: "It is terrible that anyone should kill themselves"
"It is terrible that anyone should kill themselves in custody and there's been five inquiries, independent of each other, as to whether we at Doncaster, baring in mind the circumstances surrounding the suicides, could have done anything to prevent them."

Campaigners for prison reform say the award, which rewards exceptional levels of customer care, is incredible. The Howard League for Penal Reform wants a government investigation into Doncaster's high death rate.

'Award was deserved'

[ image:  ]
Staff from the jail will receive the award on Tuesday morning but with the inquests for the most recent death at the prison still to be heard, pressure for change is set to continue.

Mark Freeman, a spokesman for the Prison Officers' Association (POA) - which is not recognised by private jail operators - said: "This flies in the face of common sense.

"If a prison gets a Charter Mark and is commended for its suicide awareness policy when it has got one of the highest suicide records in the country there has got to be something wrong with the system."

Mr Freeman said men under 25 and either on remand or in the first month of their sentence were the most at risk of suicide.

But he said: "Doncaster's inmates are no more vulnerable than those in other prisons."

He said the Charter Mark for Doncaster would be a "slap in the face" for POA members in publicly-run prisons up and down the country.

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